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Narration is Formation

Narration is Formation
Kat van Elswyk, Middle School Humanities Teacher

"Narration" is a word we kick around a lot here at The Wilberforce School. I've feared it could even be passed off as a buzzword. There have been classes I have taught where the mere word "narrate" has set off a series of moans. (Quite the opposite reaction that Charlotte Mason predicts should happen in a child's heart!) We easily confuse or misunderstand this simple method, especially when it mixes with our modern notions of education. However, at its heart, it is an uncomplicated little invitation.

We are told, immediately upon introduction to the concept by Miss Mason, that it is something children "do by nature." By "nature" indicates that it need not be taught. The ability already rests inside the child and we need only "call it forth." Its success, however, rests on the quality of the text before the child. The more "living" and fecund the text, the more the mind takes to it, and therefore the more easily one can retell it. So, we first begin with a good text.

Then, after having read an episode from the text, we simply ask for the child to tell what was read without looking back. Perhaps she can tell a small portion because she was not paying attention ("You must listen more closely in this next reading!") or perhaps a beautiful oration emerges, containing much of the author's language, sequence, and detail. The details that awoke the imagination may vary somewhat from child to child as each one mixes herself into the work of recalling it. This is the meat of narration: digesting the living ideas. And this is why we call upon its power.

Narration is not an end in itself. It is a servant that helps transport the ideas within a text to the very heart of the person reading the text. Someone who has deeply digested a text through narration can recall it months, even years, later. The ideas transform from informative to formative through one simple act. By pausing for narration, we affirm the heart of our Christian mission: to bring up young men and women who are formed by the good, the true, and the beautiful.